June 23, 2022
  • June 23, 2022

Companies ask unvaccinated workers to pay more for their health insurance

By on November 22, 2021 0


As Covid cases increased over the summer, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian took action: Unvaccinated workers should pay an additional $ 200 per month for their health insurance, starting November 1 .

It seemed cheaper than the vaccination mandate imposed on workers by rival United Airlines. But it was still daring.

About 75% of Delta’s workforce had already received Covid injections by that time. But each employee hospitalized with Covid cost Delta $ 50,000, and Bastian noted in an August note that none of the people hospitalized during the summer wave had been fully vaccinated.

“This supplement will be necessary to address the financial risk that the decision not to vaccinate creates for our business,” he wrote.

More companies are considering fees and surcharges for unvaccinated people

Now, as Covid cases climb again, more companies are putting aside carrots and turning to sticks in an effort to protect their workers. From Utah grocery chain Harmons to Wall Street banking giant JPMorgan Chase, companies are telling their unvaccinated workers to get vaccinated or pay more for health insurance.

In a September survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found that less than 1% of organizations had increased health insurance premiums for unvaccinated workers and 13% considered doing so.

It was higher among large companies, where almost 20% were planning to move.

New fees at employer boost vaccination rates

An employer tries a different tactic. Mercyhealth, which has more than 7,000 employees at hospitals and clinics in Wisconsin and Illinois, introduced what it called “risk pooling fees” instead of health care premiums higher. As of mid-October, unvaccinated employees have had $ 60 deducted from their pay each month to enter this pool.

In a note to employees, Mercyhealth compared the costs to 16-year-old drivers having to pay more for auto insurance to cover the increased risks they pose as new drivers.

Alen Brcic, vice president of people and culture at Mercyhealth, says $ 60 a month is nominal, if not nominal. Mercyhealth still bears most of the costs when someone is absent from work or is hospitalized due to Covid.

But after the policy was announced in September, the vaccination rate among health system workers rose from around 70% to 91%, according to Brcic.

“We really think this approach works,” says Brcic. “Really, our goal is to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, but also to make sure that people have a choice.”

A few “handfuls” of people have quit because of the policy, and around 9% of employees now contribute to the risk pool. Mercyhealth provided a very small number of medical exemptions, but no religious exemptions.

Brcic is uncertain how the federal mandate on vaccines for healthcare workers, which is due to take effect Jan. 4, will affect the risk pool program.

“We are evaluating all the options,” he says.

“Wellness programs” allow companies to increase health care premiums

Other employers, including Delta Air Lines, JPMorgan Chase and Harmons, appear to be increasing health care premiums for unvaccinated workers as part of what’s called a “wellness program.”

Under federal law, companies are allowed to charge employees different amounts for health care as long as they do so as part of a program designed to promote healthy behaviors and prevent disease.

For example, a company might set up a wellness program that encourages employees to accumulate a certain number of steps each day, or set goals for BMI, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. There are also wellness programs aimed at preventing and reducing tobacco use.

“Your wellness program could just be: I’m going to encourage all of my employees to get vaccinated, period,” says Sabrina Corlette, founder and co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University.

As part of these programs, companies may offer rewards or penalties for achieving certain goals, such as immunization. But they should not exceed 30% of the cost of the employee’s health care plan, calculated as the amount paid by the employee and the employer combined. The maximum penalty increases to 50% for wellness programs targeting smoking.

“Most employers do this to try and have a healthier, more productive workforce … and to spend less on overall health care costs,” says Corlette.

Wellness programs must include exemptions

Under federal law, the wellness program must be “reasonably designed”, which means that there is a reasonable chance that the program will improve participants’ health or prevent disease.

To ensure wellness programs do not violate discrimination laws, companies should provide waivers to people who have medical reasons for not meeting stated goals or alternative means for them to meet. according to the requirements.

As part of his policy, the Utah Harmons grocer says his insurance surcharge of up to $ 200 per month applies to “unvaccinated associates who do not qualify for an exemption or who have chose not to complete a series of vaccine education “.

“Over 86% of our associates are vaccinated, and we believe this and the other safety measures we have taken have kept our associates safe during the pandemic,” a company statement read.

Delta Air Lines wouldn’t say how many of its 73,000 US-based employees have been paying the $ 200 monthly surtax since it went into effect on November 1. 94%. “

Copyright NPR 2021.